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Check the List
If you’re drawing up a list of presents you’d like this holiday season, keep it for Santa’s eyes only. Canon 4 C of the Code of Conduct for Judicial Employees states: “A judicial employee should not solicit or accept a gift from anyone seeking official action from or doing business with the court or other entity served by the judicial employee, or from anyone whose interests may be substantially affected by the performance or nonperformance of official duties; except that a judicial employee may accept a gift as permitted by the Ethics Reform Act of 1989 and the Judicial Conference Gift Regulations.” The prohibition extends to members of a judicial employee’s family who live at home. Title 5 U.S.C. § 7353 echoes Canon 4’s restrictions.
"A judicial employee should not solicit or accept a gift from anyone seeking official action from or doing business with the court or other entity served by the judicial employee..."
The Gift Regulations allow most court employees to accept gifts or gratuities such as baked goods and candies, which have a de minimis pecuniary value to any member of the office. Under the Gift Regulations, nonchambers employees may accept noncash gifts with a value of less than $50. Alternatively, such gifts might fall within the “ordinary social hospitality” exception to the rule against acceptance of gifts by federal employees.
Generally, these exceptions to the acceptance of gifts does not extend to chambers staff, who should be guided by individual court policy.
For holiday giving within the courts, the Gift Regulations permit employees to collect voluntary contributions for a group gift, or to make a voluntary gift, in “circumstances in which gifts are traditionally given or exchanged” and on “special occasions.” However, the regulations state that judicial employees generally “shall not solicit a contribution from another employee for a gift to an official superior, make a donation as a gift or give a gift to an official superior, or accept a gift from an employee receiving less pay than himself.”
So before making those holiday lists, check with the court and consult the Code of Conduct for the policy on what’s appropriate for gifting and getting this holiday season. The Code of Conduct and Gift Regulations can be found on the J-Net ethics webpage at http://jnet.ao.dcn/Ethics/index.html, and on uscourts.gov at http://www.uscourts.gov/RulesAndPolicies/CodesOfConduct.aspx.